In Finch’s lively blend of action and adventure, intrepid hero and ex-detective Lord Charles Lenox feels that he is fast approaching middle age. Although a number of challenging and critical decisions plague him, it hasn’t prevented Lenox from enjoying the happy fruits of his marriage to lovely Lady Jane and basking in his considerable reputation as a newly-minted parliamentarian.
As A Burial at Sea opens, Charles is visited by his brother Edmund, who
delivers the grim news that England’s cordial friendship with France may be in jeopardy. Just eight days
prior, an Englishman was found dead in a bedroom above a brutal area of the Marseilles docks. Edmund is positive that someone in the government is working for the French. Faced with the prospect of another war, Edmund requests that Charles travel to Egypt under public guise on behalf of the British government.
Always loyal to the Crown, Lenox jumps at the opportunity, setting sail aboard the corvette
HMS Lucy, bound for the Suez with a plea to look after his nephew, the mischievous, endearingly freckle-faced Teddy. Charles takes to shipboard life; it doesn’t take him long to feel a deep sensory pleasure as he watches the sailors work while enjoying the salted wind, the flecks of water, the orange and purple sunset, “the mesmerizing, muscular gray-blue water.”
In the dead of night, a body turns up on the quarter deck, the moon casting a brilliant white light, illuminating every gory detail.
The murderer has sliced open his victim from throat to the navel, pealing back the skin and revealing an exposed rectangle of his insides. Lenox is all eyes and ears, his dagger-sharp mind on considerable display even in periods of deep frustration. Captain Martin
begs Lenox to solve the chilling crime, and Lenox is more than willing to assist, excited by the prospects of a proper case.
In typical fashion, Finch weaves into his story complicated factors and major players. Lenox realizes
that the Lieutenants may be exceeding their position. While gentle, red-faced Halifax ends up as collateral damage, suspicion turns to dour Carrow and then onto Lieutenant Billings, who longs for a command of his own and whose presence is not just about duty and ambition, but also about "instinct and preference."
Although the final section reads more like a sequel, there's a furtive mood of claustrophobia
throughout the bulk of the tale as HMS Lucy sails the open waters, so sturdy and tough. Captain Martin snaps his orders, but he can do little to stop a murderer and quite possibly a mutinous gang of sailors.
As a wild storm lashes Lucy, Captain Martin's pleas for the man who committed the foul evil deed to come forward seem to be going unnoticed.
Danger hangs heavy, the action playing out against the nineteenth century's political and economic intrigues. At journey’s end, yet another murder
is executed with the same kind of malice in Finch's swashbuckling thriller. Leave it to loyal Charles to prevail in a case that dazzles with strange moments of frustration and bafflement.